What if Burnham had won last year?

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a lot of ‘whatifery’ around the Labour party at the moment. What if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected with a bigger majority? What if there’s a snap general election? What if there’s a serious attempt to impose mandatory reselections on sitting Labour MP?

Here’s a more abstract thought for the start of the traditional silly season: what if Andy Burnham, rather than Jeremy Corbyn had been elected Labour leader last July?

Clearly Corbyn romped home with 65 per cent of the vote, so it wasn’t exactly a close-run thing, but Burnham was second (meaning this counter-factual is not outside the realms of plausibility).

Looking back, it now seems quite unbelievable that intelligent people ever thought Liz Kendall was in with a shout of winning. Her derisory 4.5 per cent of the vote – fewer than one in twenty eventually backed her – was a cataclysmic defeat.

It doesn’t reflect on her as a person or as a smart, effective politician. The neo-Blairite flag she marched to war under was utterly cursed from the start. It was a drubbing the likes of which the party’s right has never faced before.

Yvette Cooper, representing that uncharismatic, technocratic Brownite tradition, was thoroughly worthy and utterly uninspiring. The party’s new recruits were drunk on full-bodied ideology and didn’t want her half-strength version.

Only Burnham seemed to read which way the party’s grassroots were heading and tacked to the left.

Shamelessly, many would say, but it doesn’t matter. The urge to hold the party together by reaching out and pulling enough support away from Corbyn in order to try and run the party from the centre-left, instead of the hard-left, was the right one.

(Who knows, if Kendall and Cooper had done likewise, perhaps it would have reduced Corbyn’s point-of-difference advantage and discouraged the flood of ‘three quid trots’ from infiltrating the party).

To a big chunk of the Westminster cognoscenti Burnham is an inveterate flip-flopper who changes his position to suit his audience. But better, surely, a flip-flopper than a rigid dogmatist like Corbyn? And even his detractors would have to acknowledge Burnham’s personal decency as one of the nicest people in British politics.

This really matters. The deteriorating personal relationships in the parliamentary party, increasingly played out on social media, are poisoning Labour from the head down. Jeremy Corbyn, purveyor of ‘kinder, gentler politics’ clearly believes in no such thing. (We know this because he’s currently leaving his henchmen to smear Owen Smith).

If he’d been able to head-off Corbyn, Burnham would have applied balm to the party’s wounds, stretching every sinew to keep all the various factions together, (an increasingly unlikely scenario at the moment). He would have blended the talents of all sections of opinion and tried to shape an agenda that kept Labour competitive.

At the moment, the party is reduced to scrap. The frontbench resembles a particularly hard-hit First World War battalion, where corporals have been promoted to officers because all the other ranks have been cut down. By any measure, it is the least able and credible shadow ministerial team since the parliamentary party was first formed.

But if you’re Jeremy Corbyn you don’t let a small matter like this detract you from building ‘The New Politics’.

Which is, of course, ‘The Very Old Politics’.

It involves cocooning the party in moral simplicity and political certainty while Labour loses election after election. And still the Corbynistas will emerge from their shells chirruping on about the “neo-liberal consensus” and how they only lost because of the right-wing media but that, hey, eight and a half million votes for socialism is a great start.

Burnham would have kept Labour positioned as a potential party of government. For all his famous disdain for the “Westminster bubble” he is a creature of it and although there would have been grumbling about him playing to the gallery, by making more space for the left than the other leadership challengers would have done, Burnham would have still managed to keep Labour looking competent and plausible. Currently, it is neither.

A Burnham-led Labour party might not have prevented Brexit. It might not have won the next general election. But it would have kept the show on the road. It would certainly have provided a platform to build future success. Labour would not have become the basket-case it currently is, or a haven for cybertrots, Home Counties lefties and MacBook revolutionaries.

In another twelve months’ time, Burnham will, in all likelihood, be the first metro mayor of Greater Manchester and one of the few Labour people in the country running anything of any importance. Good luck to him.

But what a shame he’s not otherwise engaged.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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15 Responses to “What if Burnham had won last year?”

  1. Peter Kenny says:

    ‘Like a particulatly hard hit First World War battalion’ – except the gaps aren’t caused by enemy fire but by desertion.

    Burnham lost by the way.

  2. Mark Livingston says:

    New Labour lost in 2010 and 2015. Tory-liteness doesn’t work. Burnham. Kendall, and Cooper were the comedy candidates last year. Smith is the comedy candidate this year. Corbyn is headed for an increased mandate and – as they say in Ireland – the dogs on the street know it.

  3. Dragonfighter says:

    Burnham is a proud Scouser, the Manc’s won’t vote for him. Also don’t forget Sadiq, who is the politician with the largest mandate in the country.

  4. Kevin, I suspect one mistake Owen Smith will not make is starting off his campaign talking about being ‘business friendly’ as the three non-Corbyn candidates did last time. Shame for him of course that he is so associated with big pharmaceutical companies, so the result will most likely be the same.

  5. Eliza says:

    Winning the party’s Manchester nomination means we can all see why Burnham has kept his head down since last September. But it diminishes him all the same. I wonder what his parliamentary colleagues make of him, shrugging his shoulders while Corbyn drives the party over a cliff.

  6. Forlornehope says:

    No, it would not have provided “a platform for future success” it would have kept Labour as a purveyor of incoherent Tory Lite policies that could only become a governing party with the backing of the SNP. It is only by adopting Corbyn’s socialist principles that Labour can, eventually, find its way back to forming a government. Eventually, disillusion with the Tories and SNP will allow the electorate to see sense and return to a radical Labour party.

  7. Richard MacKinnon says:

    What a load of sentimental crap. If only Andy had won, things might be so different. He might well be the nicest man in British politics but he’s yesterdays man. He had his chance and he blew it. Mayor of Manchester, does that come with a big chain and a red gown with a fur collar?

  8. Tafia says:

    A very good article in todays The Times.

    South Yorkhire (which is rock solid Labour, mostly blue collar Labour as opposed to metropolitan middle class Labour) and includes Dan Jarvis’s constituency) , at the last General Election, of all that voted, 65% voted Labour. It’s one of the strongest pro-Labour regions in the country. In the EU referendum, turn-out increased and the vote was 66.3% Leave. Grimthorpe, a former colliery town, only one Remain voter could be found.

    And in the neighbouring areas of Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham – again massively blue collar Labour, the Leave vote came in at a staggering 68.4%

    And the one single issue? Freedom of Movement. Blue collar Labour will not accept it anymore. Nor will they accept any feeble excuses for it that any politician of any hue may care to utter trying to excuse it.

    So quite how Labour – run by Corbyn’s metropolitan London-centric middle class and currently being undermined by a largely London-centric metropolitan middle-class PLP – square this little circle is beyond either group I think.

    As the leader of Barnsley Council says of the metroploitan cliques “We may all live in the same country but we don’t all live in the same world.”

  9. John P Reid says:

    Andy’s work/friendship with Steve Rotherham, Bill Emerson on Hilsbrough has to be applauded, he was loyal to Blair Brown and Ed miliband publically, Andy disgraced himself during the campaign, his supporters felt empresses OK Yvette, Liz ask, labour first would have rallied around him
    He was part of the one more push team to win not realizing that we lost every argument at the 2015 election
    PAndy was all things to all people ,nothing to everyone, like Ed M, he understood, unlike David M how unpopular were were with our core vote in 2010′ but by 2015 our ex voters ,were a lot more disillusioned with us, than in 2010 , at the time it was Sleaze, snouts in the troff, the economy, now it was ignoring the concerns of the aspiring working class, vowing obsessed, with stay at home mums, who couldn’t afford to return to work, or white collar public sector workers

    The rise of momentum, the sheer determination, of their nastiness, and willing to turn a blind eye to the hatred they’ve shown, Andy wouldn’t gave coped

    His silly idea about retired police who have inquiries into whether they made the wrong decision, and gave their pensions stripped, over looks,A, they paid [15% of their wage into their pension, B its taxed, and if a retired cop is accused of making the wrong decision, all be it a legal one, the retired PC would have the right for all available old paper work to back up they thought they’d made the right decision, where could this paper work be found?, and he wants special constables not to have CS spray, to defend themselves ,sergeants in charge of them would turn just say, I can’t send Specials out on the beat, as they haven’t the equipment to defend themselves, if I send them to arrest someone, violent.

    Like Ed miliband Andy managed to appeal to various groups, Ed M in 2010 got Blue Labour, David Owen Kinnock senior, Tony Benn behind him, but where was Andy in the EU campaign, mas the left are trying toataje over the NEC via unite, would Andy be able to stand up to them now Mckusky reckons that MI5 are the ones behind momentums prejudice on Twitter,

    Then there’s who did people vote for ,for their second choice, one of Cruddas staff, who was very anti Corbyn put online, he voted Yvette, and Liz, first two choices
    And couldn’t bring himself to vote Andy ,third as his campaign was so bad

    And as I’ve said I know many people who voted Liz or Yvette first, Jeremy second
    To give win as the ABC candidate wouldn’t have been a victory
    The one thing I would say in Andy’s defense
    The 50,000 who have left since September would still be here,


  10. Ultraviolet says:

    Do you know why there is talk of deselection?

    “hard-left” (about as hard left as Ted Heath)

    “three quid trots” (who knew there were so many tens of thousands of Trotskyists hiding in this country)

    “rigid dogmatist” (who invited his defeated opponents into the Cabinet, and merely expected them to have some respect for the democratic will of the members)

    “leaving his henchmen to smear Owen Smith” (the same Owen Smith who, having offered Corbyn the role of President of the party because he is so honourable and decent is today accusing him of presiding willingly over a rise in the level of “abuse, misogyny and anti-Semitism” in the party)

    “It involves cocooning the party in moral simplicity and political certainty while Labour loses election after election.” (from the people who have lost election after election since 2006)

    “haven for cybertrots, Home Counties lefties and MacBook revolutionaries” (but we will still pretend that it is Corbyn’s supporters who are perpetrating the abuse)

    The lack of self-awareness among Corbyn’s opponents is quite staggering.

  11. John p reid says:

    What Tafia said, I’m holding my nose voting Owen as he wants another referendum, I’ve asked lord Glasman, Gisela Stuart,john Mann to do the same

    Mark livingatone, Ed miliband spent the last 5 years denouncing new labour, Tory lite Blairite policies, then we lost
    Yes Gordin Brian was new labour and he lost,bye got 29%’ which was 2% more than Michael foot, a manifesto, Jeremy backed

  12. John reid says:

    I wonder how many times Jermy would have voted against the whip,if we’d abstained on trident renewal bombing Syria, welfare ,cuts, since September and others

  13. buttley says:

    “Looking back, it now seems quite unbelievable that intelligent people ever thought Liz Kendall was in with a shout of winning.”

    Last time round, not one of the three anointed candidates, could articulate a positive message of what they would bring to the table.

    They preferred to brief hacks, smear each other & bitch like pantomime dames.

    Normal people, “correctly” perceive this as a sense of entitlement & bullshit, & switch off.

    Corbyn made a positive case, & took it to real people, no bitching, just a clean positive message & won concisely.

    This same sense of entitlement, is still on display, the PLP & is now more entrenched than ever, snobbery & disdain for the members, who can’t be trusted to vote the right way.

    When the crystal ball gazers in his own party, state the “fact” of Corbyns Un-electability, most people think, here we go, project fear v4.0.

    The PLP have painted themselves into a corner, a trap of their own making, the paint is still drying, and now a tsunami is on the horizon, that will probably sweep away all before.

    And yet they still cry “wolf” to anyone within earshot.

    Corbyn has taken biblical amounts personal abuse in the last ten months, he didnt bitch, or run to a “friendly hack” for a puff piece on why i am so misunderstood, hard done by, victimised, bullied, trollo-ed etc.

    The PLP at the moment, is like the proverbial one armed waiter.

    They can dish it out, but they can’t take it away.

  14. TellthetruthplsManc says:

    The more interesting question is what would have happened if David Milliband had won in 2010? I believe we would not have had a Tory majority government for one and he was. If anybody wa listening in his leadership bid stating that Labour had stopped with thinking in 1997 and talked about getting back into communities again much like Corbyn is doing now. He would have learnt lessons from what went wrong but been able to offer us an alternative Prime Minister which anybody who took one look atEd Milliand knew was not the case in 2010 and so it turned out. Labour never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to pick a poor leader.

  15. Andrew says:

    Is the answer that Labour Uncut would have spent the last 10 months trying to trash his leadership?

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